• Avery
    43
    Please help me identify this belief system.
    Hopefully there is an existing school of thought that already describes it:

    • It's based on the idea that morality and ethics are purely human inventions, which only exist as thoughts in our heads.
    • Ideas like good/bad & right/wrong are purely subjective, and don't actually describe our universe. This is also true of concepts like should/shouldn't, deserving, ownership, responsibility etc.
    • This philosophy encourages people to identify and strip away human concepts like this, to gain a more accurate understanding of the world.
    • Rather than making decisions based on a moral code, this philosophy encourages people to focus on outcomes. Instead of asking "What should I do?", ask "What do I want to see happen?", and then to work toward that goal.
    • This philosophy is not psychopathy, and encompasses the full depth of human emotion, empathy, and kindness.

    I don't think this is moral relativism, since that would imply that morality is relative to a person or situation. This belief system says that morals/ethics don't exist at all, except as arrangements of neurons.

    Please help me identify or categorize this. It's been a long and lonely road, and I'd like to learn from others who may have learned more.

    Thank you sincerely for any help!
    Avery
  • Grre
    183
    This belief system says that morals/ethics don't exist at all, except as arrangements of neurons.

    I think what you're describing is closer to constructivism or nihilism. Constructivism highlights that most things are human inventions-that is that they are socially constructed within social groups (customs, morals, religion, ect.) This does not mean they are not real per say, they are very much real, but more that it means that they are real intersubjectively, meaning within the particular social group that they were created. Ie. money is "real' its a tangible object, but the meaning attached to it is intersubjective, it requires other people in a group to validate its worth. A 100$ bill is accepted in New York City but would be used as fire kindling in the middle ages ect. Does that make sense? The 100$ bill does not have objective meaning outside of the social reality which constructed its meaning.

    Nihilism is more of an understanding that nothing objectively matters; morals, life, death ect. Meaning is just something we create to distract ourselves from the oblique nothingness. Of course, many nihilistic or absurdist thinkers do still have a code of ethics and beliefs on how to make life more liveable. But they largely don't believe there is any objective truth our purpose to our lives.

    Rather than making decisions based on a moral code, this philosophy encourages people to focus on outcomes. Instead of asking "What should I do?", ask "What do I want to see happen?", and then to work toward that goal.

    I think utilitarianism is what you are trying to describe here. Utilitarianism is a moral judgement system that prioritizes the maximum amount of happiness/success of outcome over the lesser amount (there are variations of course). Its a moral system based on outcome, usually quantifiable outcome, rather than whether the action itself is good or bad.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.9k
    I was thinking nihilism until you got to this part:

    ask "What do I want to see happen?", and then to work toward that goal.Avery

    Which seems to put it squarely as a form of egotism. “The good is whatever I want”. Which is almost (next to only nihilism) the least defensible position on morality there can be.

    It sounds like the main thing leading you here is a rejection of both robust realism (where some kind of facts about reality, be they natural or non-natural, constitute descriptive moral truths), and most forms of subjectivism (where moral truths just are someone or another agreeing that something is moral; your egotism is a kind of that too, though you except it).

    I agree wholeheartedly with the rejection of both of those, but nihilism isn’t the only alternative. The usual popular alternatives are varieties of non-cognitivism, which say that moral claims aren’t even trying to say things the likes of which can be true or false. I’m also opposed to those. But a very few philosophers, including myself, aim instead for a non-descriptivism, while retaining cognitivism.

    On such an account, moral claims are not descriptions of the world at all, they’re not purporting to describe some kind of moral objects, neither natural nor non-natural, nor are they about people’s views, so they aren’t made true or false by anyone’s agreement or disagreement. But they are nevertheless capable of being objectively, universally, unbiasedly correct. They are just correct prescriptions, rather than correct descriptions; and prescriptions are to be judged by different criteria than descriptions, by appeal to our appetites rather than our senses, but to all of our appetites equally, just like when describing reality we have to account for all of our sensory observations equally.
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    This belief system says that morals/ethics don't exist at all, except as arrangements of neuronsAvery

    Well then they do exist, don't they?
  • Olivier5
    169
    prescriptions are to be judged by different criteria than descriptions, by appeal to our appetites rather than our senses, but to all of our appetites equally, just like when describing reality we have to account for all of our sensory observations equally.Pfhorrest

    That would be impossible to do, because both our sensory observations and our "appetites" are much too numerous to be all accounted for equally. The human condition is about making choices -- including choices about what is relevant to consider in a given context, and what is irrelevant.

    These choices are always made with insufficient information, e.g. no one knows how things are really going to pan out if one does A rather than B.

    AND we are prone to lying to ourselves when considering such pros and cons, to rationalize our greed, or cowardness, or envy into something we can agree to wholeheartedly.

    So not only are the future outcomes of our choices unpredictable; even our motives (our "appetites") are not totally transparent to ourselves.

    Hence the need to get counsel from others, and for some rule-based ethics.
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    That would be impossible to do, because both our sensory observations and our "appetites" are much too numerous to be all accounted for equally.Olivier5

    Exactly. We've yet to be graced with any details on this 'accounting' process, which sounds suspiciously like providing some post hoc rationalisation to one's personal 'appetites' to lend them an air of objective authority.
  • Mww
    1.7k
    What do I want to see happen?", and then to work toward that goal.
    — Avery

    Which seems to put it squarely as a form of egotism.
    Pfhorrest

    Agreed, at least for this part. “What I want to see happen” translates easily to “that for which I am sufficient causality”. Sometimes better known as The God Complex, or, severe egotism, in as much as thinking a perfection of any kind, and attaining to it, are mutually exclusive.

    Not sure egotism is an actual school of philosophy though.
  • Olivier5
    169
    We've yet to be graced with any details on this 'accounting' process, which sounds suspiciously like providing some post hoc rationalisation to one's personal 'appetites' to lend them an air of objective authority.Isaac

    Yep, that's the danger. We are ambiguous by nature, we're prone to dishonesty, including with ourselves. Pfhorrest seems to trust our capacity for exhaustive and honest accouting a little too much.
  • Olivier5
    169
    Regarding the impossibility of exhaustivity in any 'accounting' of outcomes and motives, and the need for a priori rules of thumbs and values, consider the problem of "analysis paralysis".

    Every human issue can be seen as almost infinitely complex, as it relates through trade offs and synergies with zillions other issues. If one tries to know and understand everything there is to know about, say, Black Lives Matter before deciding to support it or not, one's lifetime won't be enough, and so one will never be able to take side.

    But if you believe strongly in equality before the law as an a priori value, you know they are right to assert that Black lives matter. Because as per your values they do matter, or ought to matter, just as much as white lives, including when facing law enforcement officials.
  • Olivier5
    169
    It's based on the idea that morality and ethics are purely human inventions, which only exist as thoughts in our heads.Avery

    Similarly, the idea that morality and ethics are purely human inventions, as well as the opposite idea, and the whole of philosophy for good measure, only exist as "thoughts in our head"...
  • Mww
    1.7k
    The human condition is about making choices -- including choices about what is relevant to consider in a given context, and what is irrelevant.

    These choices are always made with insufficient information, e.g. no one knows how things are really going to pan out if one does A rather than B.
    Olivier5

    Which reduces without contradiction, to.....the human condition is about making choices, the consequences of which are unknown. Humans do choose, and if knowledge of the consequences are unknown, then perhaps it isn’t from insufficient information with respect to consequences that grounds such choice, but rather, from exactly the information at hand. Which tends to make the right/wrong dichotomy regarding choices, an improper perspective.

    ——————

    So not only are the future outcomes of our choices unpredictable.....

    The future is inaccessible to knowledge in any domain, so has no business being a legislative consideration for what effectively is a vast array of personal choice possibilities.

    ......even our motives (our "appetites") are not totally transparent to ourselves.....

    If not totally, it must be the case they are transparent, that is, present to our attention, enough to know what they are, such that there is some ground for whatever choices we do end up making. Otherwise, it becomes possible to never make a motive-based choice at all.

    .......Hence the need to get counsel from others, and for some rule-based ethics.
    Olivier5

    So where is the line drawn, such that we don’t need outside counsel? Otherwise it would seem to be the case we need outside counsel for every single choice ever even possible to make. Doesn’t our own experience sometimes serve as counsel? To say counsel is itself an experience, it is nonetheless of second-hand quality, seemingly insufficient for choices where personal integrity is a necessary requisite. What of immediacy, insofar as a determinant choice is possibly under time-constraint? Make an appointment? Call your best friend? The exception cannot disseminate the norm, but must always be derived from it.

    And if we adhere to a rule-based ethics, why wouldn’t the rule eliminate the need for any counsel whatsoever, other than one’s own, such that his choices follow the rule?

    There’s no doubt we sometimes.....often.....rationalize conditions to suit our own best interests, so perhaps that is a better example of what the human condition is about, rather than the choices which follow.

    But I appreciate your sentiment. The human species seems to have fallen into at least partial disgrace, and we may have even evolved ourselves right out of the capacity to rectify it. The ingredients are still within us, nonetheless, if for no other reason than we are still human, with all its fundamental entailment included.
  • Avery
    43
    Thank you all for these replies! I sincerely appreciate them, and I hope it's clear in my replies that I'm not here to fire back at them. :)

    You know, we're so limited by our language when we discuss these things. There are so many terms in philosophy with multiple meanings.

    Just to clearer, myself, here's a key what I mean when I say certain words (please feel free to skip this):

    - - -

    morals, ethics, good, bad, right, wrong, should, shouldn't = objective moral truths that are built into the fabric of the universe. Not subjective. Things that would be true whether humans existed or not.

    (I will typically not use these words, since I don't believe in those things).

    thoughts, concepts, opinions about morality, ethics, etc = arrangements of neurons which form our subjective thoughts about morals.

    When I talk about something like "emotion", "empathy", "kindness", etc., this is what I mean. I'm referring to the physical representation of those thoughts inside the brain. I also believe that consciousness is probably entirely physical.

    Hopefully this can explain what might have seemed like a contradiction in the OP - saying that "objective morals don't exist", while also saying that something like "kindess" does. I meant that thoughts and feelings about kindness do exist, while objective moral truths do not.

    - - -

    I want to respond to some of what you guys wrote:

    I think what you're describing is closer to constructivism or nihilism.Grre

    You know, I think you're right! I checked out moral/ethical nihilism, and I believe this describes what I believe pretty closely - seriously, thank you! Maybe also moral subjectivism - if you interpret "local morals" in a very neuroscience-based way.

    It's wonderful to know there are terms for this, and maybe I can learn more about what others have thought.

    Constructivism highlights that most things are human inventions-that is that they are socially constructed within social groups (customs, morals, religion, ect.) This does not mean they are not real per say, they are very much real, but more that it means that they are real intersubjectively, meaning within the particular social group that they were created.Grre

    Oof. It hurts to see how much language can get in our way here. English in particular is difficult to work with here. Would it be correct to rephrase what you've said as: "This does not mean these moral ideas are objective truths in the universe, but that people's thoughts about them are real, among members of a specific social group."?

    I think utilitarianism is what you are trying to describe here.Grre

    It's not Utilitarianism. I don't believe that actions which maximize happiness are 'good', because I don't believe that 'good' exists. However, someone might prefer them - but when we talk about preferences, we're just talking about brains and atoms.

    Which seems to put it squarely as a form of egotism. “The good is whatever I want”.Pfhorrest

    It's also not egotism. Again, because I don't believe "good" exists. So I don't believe that "what I want" is good. I just believe it's what I want. It has no objective moral properties one way or another, because those don't exist. Those neurons just exist, the same way that the atoms in a coffee table exist.

    ...Which is almost (next to only nihilism) the least defensible position on morality there can be.Pfhorrest

    Since I'm pretty sure moral nihilism describes what I believe, I'd be very interested to hear why it's the least defensible position. - Seriously asking, no argument implied. :)

    The usual popular alternatives are varieties of non-cognitivism, which say that moral claims aren’t even trying to say things the likes of which can be true or false.Pfhorrest

    Hmm...On your suggestion here, I did a deep dive into non-cognitivism. On the surface, it seems legit, and not actually in conflict with moral nihilism. But...most descriptions I read of it use a lot of jargon which seems like it may have been invented just to explain this philosophy...meaning that I would need to do a lot more digging before I'd feel comfortable saying I agree with it. Right now, I can't be sure I understand it. Thank you for the suggestion!

    But a very few philosophers, including myself, aim instead for a non-descriptivism, while retaining cognitivism.Pfhorrest

    Thanks for this. I found this paper on non-descriptive cognitivism, which I have yet to get all the way through (but will). I just need a dictionary handy while I do. :p

    http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/factual/papers/HorganNondescriptive.html

    Does this describe your beliefs? I'd love to hear more.

    On such an account, moral claims are not descriptions of the world at all, they’re not purporting to describe some kind of moral objects, neither natural nor non-natural, nor are they about people’s views, so they aren’t made true or false by anyone’s agreement or disagreement. But they are nevertheless capable of being objectively, universally, unbiasedly correct. They are just correct prescriptions, rather than correct descriptions; and prescriptions are to be judged by different criteria than descriptions, by appeal to our appetites rather than our senses, but to all of our appetites equally, just like when describing reality we have to account for all of our sensory observations equally.Pfhorrest

    I have a tough time with prescriptions. Again, this may be a language issue - but the simple definition of a prescription as "seeking answers to what should be." turns me off, and here's why: I do not believe in "should". And I'm also confused, because implying that it's even possible that something "should" be, means a prescriptive statement cannot exist with a descriptive statement that "should" is possible. Therefore a prescriptive statement is also a descriptive statement.

    Well then they do exist, don't they?Isaac

    I apologize - once again, this is an obstacle of language, rather than meaning. Let me rephrase the quote you responded to:

    "This belief system says that objective moral facts do not exist. However, thoughts about morals can exist as arrangements of neurons - but these thoughts are not the same are objective morals. They are just thoughts."

    This blunder was one of the reasons I wrote the key at the top of this post. When i wrote "morals" what I should have said was "objective moral facts". People so often refer to their thoughts about morality by the same word "morals", that the two meanings can often by confused, or conflated.

    I had hoped to draw a distinction that while people have thoughts about morals and ethics, those thoughts do not describe things that exist outside of our heads. Similarly to how my imaginative thought about a pink elephant is very real - as a thought - but that the pink elephant I'm imagining does not actually exist out there.

    Another good example of this is the medieval belief in bodily "humours". For a long time, many people were very confident this was how the body worked. Their thoughts about humours were very real. But humours were not real.

    Exactly. We've yet to be graced with any details on this 'accounting' process, which sounds suspiciously like providing some post hoc rationalisation to one's personal 'appetites' to lend them an air of objective authority.Isaac

    You know, I'm not sure if this was actually a response to my OP, or to what Pfhorrest wrote.

    but in case the "accounting" process you mentioned was referring to my beliefs, here's how the logic usually goes:

    "What do I really want out of this situation? What do I really want to see happen?"

    I'm a human with emotions and empathy, so the answer will usually involve helping others, while trying to fulfill my own interests. I've always found that helping others brings some of the most wonderful happiness out of anything one can do. But I don't believe this happiness is objectively good, or that helping other people is objectively good. Just that it causes the biological machine which is me to feel happiness. Which is enough for me. :) Because I believe that's all that's really going on.

    Once again, thank you all for responding! And for reading any part of this very long reply. <3
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    When i wrote "morals" what I should have said was "objective moral facts". People so often refer to their thoughts about morality by the same word "morals", that the two meanings can often by confused, or conflated.Avery

    Understood.

    You know, I'm not sure if this was actually a response to my OP, or to what Pfhorrest wrote.Avery

    It was a comment about Pfhorrest's systemetising, but applies equally to any "I can work out what is morally right"type of algorithm which treats morality as something outside of social constructs.

    "What do I really want out of this situation? What do I really want to see happen?"Avery

    That may be the case sometimes, but it's a mistake to assume neurological measures of 'happiness' like dopamine correlate exactly with what we talk about as 'happiness'. It's considerably more complicated neurologically and sometimes when we make moral-type decisions areas of the brain responsible for things like dopamine response are not even involved. Things which we talk about as 'moral' decisions are very unlikely to be resolved using any one method.
  • Avery
    43
    That may be the case sometimes, but it's a mistake to assume neurological measures of 'happiness' like dopamine correlate exactly with what we talk about as 'happiness'. It's considerably more complicated neurologically...Isaac

    Complete agree, and you've said it better than I.

    I did not mean to imply that doing what I believe I want to do will therefore make me happy. It's just an attempt.

    and sometimes when we make moral-type decisions areas of the brain responsible for things like dopamine response are not even involved.Isaac

    Citation needed.

    Things which we talk about as 'moral' decisions are very unlikely to be resolved using any one method.Isaac

    Hard to know what you mean here. Would you mind rephrasing this in other words?
  • Olivier5
    169
    Which tends to make the right/wrong dichotomy regarding choices, an improper perspective.Mww

    My point entirely.

    So where is the line drawnMww

    Wherever you feel like drawing it. To seek advice or not in a given situation is a personal choice.

    There’s no doubt we sometimes.....often.....rationalize conditions to suit our own best interests, so perhaps that is a better example of what the human condition is about, rather than the choices which follow.Mww

    I'm not trying to arrive at the ultimate definition of the human condition, just saying it includes a) ambiguity, and b) making choices based on incomplete information. These two points are enough to show that an exhaustive and objective analysis of all the implications of our actions is not something upon which we can based our decisions.

    But I appreciate your sentiment. The human species seems to have fallen into at least partial disgrace, and we may have even evolved ourselves right out of the capacity to rectify it. The ingredients are still within us, nonetheless, if for no other reason than we are still human, with all its fundamental entailment included.Mww

    Man is the "one who is existing", far more than other existing species: free, he must free himself; human, he must humanize himself. If man was fully man by birth, he would then merely be an individual example of the species Homo sapiens. But he is a person, and already we see this person defining himself as escaping any a priori definition, as having constantly to be his own being, as being indefinitely capable of seeing himself in hindsight to write his own story, to reflect about his existence, change his way of being, or swear allegiance to himself.

    Le Problème moral et la pensée de Sartre, by Francis Jeanson

    Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
  • Avery
    43


    This side conversation seems pretty far off topic from the OP. If you wouldn't mind, please start a new thread if you'd like to continue it. I mean no offense, and I'm happy that you're here. :)
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    Citation needed.Avery

    I'll dig out a few papers tomorrow when I'm at my computer.

    Hard to know what you mean to say here. Would you mind rephrasing this in other words?Avery

    Basically, we use the word 'moral' to describe a wide range of decisions (behaviours to choose from), it seems, from the studies that have been done, that different types of decision engage different parts of the brain, even though we'd call them all morally. For example, seeking to help a fallen friend engages empathy and theory of mind associated areas as we would expect, but deciding whether to help a non-friend (the experiment was done with opposing football supporters) involves parts of the brain associated with valuation, as if they were weighing up the value if the individual, or the social value of helping. Other situations might involve disgust, rule-following, social norms, even complex calculations. Sometimes no concious thought is involved at all. It seems to just depend on the context.
  • Avery
    43


    Understood! Thank you. :)

    On an unrelated, non-argumentative soapbox: It's confusions like this that caused me to stop using the word "moral" altogether in most speech (unless I'm describing what I don't believe in). :p
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    It's confusions like this that have caused me to stop using the word "moral" altogether in most speechAvery

    Yes, I can sympathise with that, but I think if one were to avoid using words whose definition consisted of loose, fuzzy collections of properties one would quickly run out of words!
  • Avery
    43


    I don't know - I've been trying to do just that for many years...I think communication has improved a lot as a result! I think it's more doable that people might think. I'm still always working on it...

    ...Sometimes an iterative approach also works, in which you start with easier, common words, and only get more specific when a confusion is identified...That's what happened in this thread...BUT: spotting those confusions (or catching them before a dangerous impression is made) isn't always so easy. So I do generally try to avoid it up front.

    You wouldn't believe the number of times people hear something like "Morals don't exist." and come back with "Well then why not just kill people then??". Sigh...so it pays to be specific or you might lose a friend or a job. :p
  • Olivier5
    169

    On the OP, I don't know what philosophy tries to "strip away human concepts to gain a more accurate understanding of the world", but I know that philosophy is self-defeating. I wouldn't recommend it either.
  • Avery
    43
    I know that philosophy is self-defeating.Olivier5

    Are you saying that philosophy itself is self defeating, or that my philosophy is?
  • Olivier5
    169
    This particular philosophy you are describing is self-defeating.
  • Avery
    43
    How so?
  • Olivier5
    169
    Because it's hard to do any philosophy without the use of human concepts. Concepts are tools for the mind. They are necessary to understand anything, especially in philosophy.

    Have you ever heard of a plumber who got rid of his plumbing tools so that he could become a more accurate plumber?

    He should rather make sure he uses good, efficient tools. Likewise to do good philosophy you need concepts, preferably good ones.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.9k
    Not sure egotism is an actual school of philosophy though.Mww

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_egoism
  • Avery
    43


    You're right. And, I could have used better language. Let me rephrase the quote you were responding to, to try again:

    "This philosophy encourages people to identify religious or philosophical concepts which aren't based in empirical evidence. When people take these unsupported concepts as fact, they can end up trying to force their understanding of reality to conform with these pre-existing beliefs. This can create unnecessary confusion, which can be very difficult to see beyond (even when it's self-imposed).

    This philosophy encourages people to spot these unsupported beliefs, and to discard the requirements they impose on one's belief system."

    Hopefully that mouthful is a better description of what I really meant.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.9k
    Pfhorrest seems to trust our capacity for exhaustive and honest accouting a little too much.Olivier5

    I never say that anyone actually does, or even can do, a completely exhaustive accounting of everything, either in factual or normative matters. I’m no more saying “the good is whatever seems good to you right now according to your appetites” than I say “the truth is whatever seems true to you right now according to your senses”. Only that senses and appetites are the criteria by which to sort through things that might be true or might be good. That sorting process is a whole thing unto itself — when concerning reality, we call it epistemology — and that’s where the handling of ambiguities and weighing of different imperfect solutions against each other happens. All I’ve said so far here is what the aim of such a process is, how to gauge whether a proposed solution is the perfect one or not, and if not, why not.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.9k
    You wouldn't believe the number of times people hear something like "Morals don't exist." and come back with "Well then why not just kill people then??"Avery

    Well why not, if someone feels like it, and can get away with it, and no moral reasons count?
  • Avery
    43
    Well why not, if someone feels like it, and can get away with it, and no moral reasons count?Pfhorrest

    Oh, no - I meant that they would ask me why I don't do it. :/ Ah well. :)
  • Olivier5
    169
    senses and appetites are the criteria by which to sort through things that might be true or might be good. That sorting process is a whole thing unto itself — when concerning reality, we call it epistemology — and that’s where the handling of ambiguities and weighing of different imperfect solutions against each other happens. All I’ve said so far here is what the aim of such a process is, how to gauge whether a proposed solution is the perfect one or not, and if not, why not.Pfhorrest

    Interesting comparison between epistemology and ethics. There are a priori rules (of thumb) in epistemology, such as reblicability of observations (e.g. if I truly see a pink elephant crossing Times Square then others must see it too). Therefore by this comparison there might be a priori rules (of thumbs) in ethics, such as Kant's C.I. (e.g. if I am allowed to do it, others should be allowed to do it).
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